Addressing U.S. Hate Crimes and All Souls Liturgy

Pictured: Hand-carved wooden statues of Norbertine saints and blesseds are on display in the St. Norbert Abbey dining room. Commissioned between 2011 and 2015 by Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., these custom works were designed and created by Josef Albl and sons of ALBL Oberammergau woodcarvers in Germany.

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

The week of October 21, 2018, was a tragic week in our country; a pall hung over our nation. We were reminded once again of the extent of hatred in the United States, expressed by not only mentally ill or lone ranger individuals, but also people in political power.

At the expense of missing an event, what do the murders of two shoppers in a Louisville Kroger grocery store, 14 intended recipients of mail bombs, the slaughter of 11 Jewish congregants, and the daily tirade and threats of punishment against several thousand Honduran asylum seekers have in common? They illustrate the worst of our nature. And all during a week in which the ashes of Matthew Shepherd, whose bloody 1998 murder helped give rise to hate laws in our country, were laid to rest in the National Cathedral.

As I struggled to make sense of these hateful utterances and actions, we sang Bernadette Farrell’s “Christ, Be Our Light” as an entrance song at Sunday Mass at St. Norbert Abbey. A portion of the lyrics include the following:

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
Light for the world to see.

Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts,
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your church gathered today.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has power to save us.
Make us your living voice.

As I continued to pray and reflect on the events, I read Deuteronomy 6:2-6, which was shared in many Christian churches on Sunday, November 4. The reading capsulizes Jewish law by directing the Jewish people to love the Lord, their God, with all of their heart, mind, and soul. What a beautiful tribute to the first of the Abrahamic faiths; may every Jew, Christian, and Moslem honor the grieving Jewish community in Pittsburgh. We stand united with you in tradition and prayer.

I continued to wonder what else I could do to process my feelings surrounding these hateful crimes by my own countrymen. A friend from Washington, D.C., Kate Tromble, pastoral associate for social justice, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, e-blasted a listing of D.C.-area vigils and the name and address of the rabbi of the Jewish congregation victimized by the October 20 hate crime:

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers
Tree of Life (Or L’Simcha) Synagogue
5898 Wilkins Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217

I thanked Kate for the information and promptly wrote to the rabbi, expressing my prayerful support as an Eastern Rite Lebanese-American in Wisconsin.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, rabbi-in-residence at Avodah, authored “The victims of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre are martyrs” in the October 28 Washington Post. She also was featured in WBUR’s “On Point on October 29. Her column and interview are well worth your time. As the rabbi and other “On Point” speakers pointed out, one response to these hate crimes, and the pro-gun culture that helps perpetuate them, is to express yourself at the polls this November 6 and afterwards.

Her comment about martyrs also reminded me that the Catholic Church celebrated All Soul’s Day (“The Commemoration of all of the Faithful Departed”) on November 2. We memorialized the lives of all those in our community who died in the last 12 months. The First Reading speaks of the souls of the just being in the hands of God (Wisdom 3:1-9). I wonder how many preachers connected this Catholic feast to the martyrdom of the Louisville shoppers, murdered Pittsburghers who celebrated the Jewish Sabbath on October 27, and Latin American asylum-seekers dying in the desert and U.S. detention centers?

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.